Album Reviews

Issue 2017-083

PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi) - Emotional Tattoo - Round Table Review

PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi) - Emotional Tattoo
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 62:01
Track List:
We're Not An Island (7:12), Morning Freedom (6:06), The Lesson (5:08), So Long (5:56), A Day We Share (6:03), There's A Fire In Me (4:55), Central District (5:27), Freedom Square (4:47), I'm Just A Sound (5:57), Hannah (5:16), It's My Road (5:07)
Mark Hughes' Review
Emotional Tattoos is the first studio album by Italian legends Premiata Forneria Marconi in four years and the first studio album of theirs that I have bought since Jet Lag, which was released in 1977, some 40 years ago. I virtually gave up on the band after hearing the next two releases Passpartù and Suonare Suonare, which saw the band diverge away from their more progressive roots and were, in my opinion, a severe drop in musical quality.

It was almost a different lifetime ago when I first encountered the band and their The World Became The World album, which my good friend at the time was convinced was Emerson, Lake and Palmer in disguise! The current incarnation of the group only features one founding member, Franz Di Cioccio, the original drummer who now mainly handles vocal duties. Bassist Patrick Djivas, who joined the band for the aforementioned TWBTW album back in 1974 and violinist Lucio Fabbri, who signed up in time for the 1980 album Suonare Suonare are the only other two members surviving from the last century. Relatively new guys Roberto Gualdi (drums) and Alessandro Scaglione (keyboards) debuted on the previous album PFM in Classic - Da Mozart a Celebration, while for Marco Sfogli (guitars) and Alberto Bravin (keyboards and vocals) Emotional Tattoos is their first appearance on a PFM album.

It would be beyond naivety to think that in the 40 years since Jet Lag there would still be a strong similarity with the albums that provided the band with their musical legacy, so my acceptance in reviewing this album was more out of curiosity than expectation. Sure there are musical similarities, such as the violin parts scattered throughout and the vocal and musical arrangements on A Day We Share, one of the strongest songs on the album, but overall there is not a great deal that lifts the album to the realms of the extraordinary. Most obviously lacking is the great and powerful vocals of the band in their heyday, like everyone, Di Cioccio's pipes have suffered the ravages of age and he now possesses a very limited range with a strong suspicion that there is a degree of studio manipulation having been applied to the vocals.

But all of this doesn't imply that the album is a flop. There are plenty of strong melodies throughout and tracks such as Central District and Freedom Square contain folkish elements that refer back to the early years, the latter even venturing into more familiar prog territory. The playing and production are of high order, as would be expected, but generally there is quite a sameness to the proceedings.

The Italian vocal version of the album is a nice nod-back to the origins of the band whose original albums were all in Italian but were re-recorded with English vocals for the UK and US markets. Of course, the current album has just had the vocals replaced over the same instrumental recordings, which does beg the question why the two versions have been released together, as it is very unlikely that any English speaking purchaser would play the Italian version, for any other reason than mild curiosity.

It is great that the band are still active and that they seemingly have a big enough following to maintain a strong presence on the live circuit. This new album may attract some new fans who will be encouraged to go through their back catalogue but, for me, I prefer to stick to the first five albums or so, and not to explore any further past 1977.
Alan Weston's Review
Premiata Forneria Marconi (or simply PFM) are an Italian progressive rock band who cut their teeth away back in the 70s and whose first six studio albums are considered their finest to date (Storia Di Un Minuto and Per Un Amico are considered classics of the Rock Progressivo Italiano genre). Like Genesis they succumbed to the 80s and produced mediocre, forgettable albums, that to the discerning ears of progressive rock fans, were difficult to listen to.

It's not until we get into the noughties that the band found their prog perspective and start producing albums that prog aficionados begin to appreciate again. Thankfully that has continued with their latest (19th) studio album Emotional Tattoos. It is a two CD affair, one CD sung in English and the other with the same songs sung in Italian.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty for this review, it has to be said this is not a return to the their 70s heyday. Out of the 11 tracks, one gets slightly beyond seven minutes, the average being about five minutes or so.

I'll get the instrumental track out of the way first. This is simply fantastic, rebel-rousing, foot-stomping music! A wonderful song with motifs a-plenty, plus superb underlying guitar work. With its driving beat and exquisite, repeating violin motifs plus a great violin solo over pulsing bass and driving drums, this is up there with Celebration from the album Photos of Ghosts (I would say this is far better). Joyous!

The other ten tracks all have vocals. All these songs have very good, catchy melodies, delivered with raspy vocals from founding member (and drummer) Franz Di Cioccio, the best being the poppish There's A Fire in Me.

The album is bursting with catchy synth motifs, from the opening We Are Not An Island, through to So Long and Hannah. Some of these will rattle around in the old tympanic membrane for some time and will be difficult to dislodge, especially So Long.

There is also some very tasty guitar solo work from Marco Sfogli that is never over-milked, as in Morning Freedom, The Lesson (possibly the best on the album), So Long, and the lovely sympathetic guitar playing in There's a Fire in Me. He is a very good guitarist indeed.

The acoustic guitar rhythm riff used in A Day We Share is a clear reminder of the George Michael song Faith, in fact they sound pretty close! But unlike Faith , this song has a folky, Jethro Tull feel about it, and all-in-all it is a good track.

The other foot-stomping song on this album is Central District, offering an infectious melody with nice bass work from Patrick Djiva and superb violin playing by Lucio Fabbri. Red Hot Chili Peppers or Runrig spring to my mind, plus there is a great ending to the song.

If I do have a serious criticism of this album, then it is that it is not a grower and the tracks are instantly very likeable (I prefer albums to slowly percolate over time). Having said that, I did not tire of it after listening a good few times before writing this review, as it is a bubbly, bouncy, happy style of music in the main. There is definitely a pop element to a fair bit of the music that works well and which makes the album more crossover or even AOR-oriented, rather than out-and-out symphonic progressive rock. Each track is rather 'radio friendly'.

At the end of the day I enjoyed the music. This is a great album with delightful tunes and musicianship, replete with ear-candy motifs and riffs. Possibly my album of the year. It made me happy!
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
This is the first new album from PFM for many years and I have to say it harks back very admirably to their Manticore Records heydays back in the 1970s. With several line-up changes behind them, this is a band destined for greatness once more.

The vocals by drummer Franz Di CIoccio are very strong and very clear, giving the English version of the album a great presence and sound. The album is issued in two different versions, one being in Italian and the other an English version. It is not a translation but completely different words. I've not heard the Italian version, so can't comment on how that sounds, but if it's anything like this English version, then it will be a fine album indeed.

I am very taken by this album and its different moods, and also with the playing throughout which is fantastic. The synths and Moogs of Alessandro Scaglione burble and sparkle and the guitarist (Marco Sfogli) is everywhere, adding some great flourishes and solos to proceedings. It's a mix that works, revealing a band of heritage, still taking risks and delivering some great and significant new material.

This is a CD that requires your full attention and several listens as there is a lot happening. I must say the singer has certain Gabriel-esque tendencies, which for me is not a bad thing, and it works by some adding emotional depth to proceedings.

In fact this could be mistaken for some long-lost Genesis tracks having being unearthed. But whichever way you view this, it is certainly a triumphant return to form and songs like The Lesson and So Long are terrific songs; bold and imaginative, the latter fuelled by some fluid bass work courtesy of Patrick Djivas.

As one who has been a fan of PFM for many years, this is to me a glorious moment for the band. It is more than able to stand next to albums such as Photos Of Ghosts, Chocolate Kings and Cook, as it shows without any doubt just how great this band is. A magnificent achievement by any standards and certainly one for my end of year list.
Mark Hughes: 5 out of 10
Alan Weston: 9 out of 10
John Wenlock-Smith: 9 out of 10
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